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I have decided to find out which 3D printers – with reasonable lead times – might appeal to creative professionals like me, that want to use them for creative output. In this post I not only share my research so far in the form of my current short list, but will also announce which printers I will be reviewing for you very soon!
If you’ve been following my blog over the last few months you know that I bought my first 3D Printer – a MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen – early this year had a lot of bad experiences with it that resulted in sending it back. So I had to restart my 3D printing market research after 3 months of using the Rep 5. A lot had changed and I decided to order the then-newly-released Leapfrog Creatr HS because of several reasons. That one got delayed so I cancelled it after more than two months of waiting. So I’m back to square one and based on the overwhelming feedback from readers I’m apparently not alone.
On top of that, the 3D printer market has exploded. On Kickstarter alone there are currently 178 active 3D-printer projects and that’s just a fraction of the ones that have been announced over the last six months.
The printers below are listed in random order and you can get more information on all of them by clicking on the photos. For good comparison I’ll summarize my opinion of the Replicator 5th gen first.
MakerBot Replicator 5th Generation
What I really liked about this printer is the well-designed user interface that makes it easy to print both from a USB drive and through a wired or wireless network. The display and dial work great and all settings are accounted for, making it really stand-alone. The design of the printer itself is nice too: sturdy and no visible wires make it look like a professional machine that looks great in a Creative Studio. But that’s just when it’s off, because the sound this 3D printer makes is loud and really annoying. It’s open from all sides so you better put it in another room if you want to do any creative work.
The two biggest disappointments, however, are the unheated printbed that makes it a PLA-only printer and the flawed Smart Extruder that doesn’t allow self maintenance by warranty. That leads to downtime and future out-of-warranty replacement costs. And this printer isn’t cheap to begin with.
My Current Shortlist of Possible Alternatives
The ones I will Review Soon
(updated on September 22nd 2014)
€1550 (ex. VAT) / Sweden
I recently discovered this 3D Printer through the Simplify3D blog and I like the ideas this team has developed. First of all this printer is completely enclosed. This reduces noise and energy and it keeps the temperature constant. It also features an air filter that is designed to significantly reduce the smell of molten plastic. While I think smell isn’t a problem with PLA printing, it surely is when printing with ABS or other more chemical plastics.
It’s build plate is generous at 270x230x195 mm, heated, removable and features a automatic leveling system. A probe checks the build plate level at 3 points before printing an the firmware compensates for any inconstancies in real time during printing by moving the build plate. This is way more advanced, acurate and practical than the Assisted Leveling of the MakerBot Replicator 5th Gen and it uses a dedicated sensor on the print head instead of the nozzle itself. According to the website, the build plate is coated with a special layer that prevents the need of any temporary top layer materials such as blue tape or a print sticker when printing PLA.
The last nice feature is the easy access to the hot end by sliding up the active cooling fan for easy maintenance and clog removal.
I’m happy to add the ZYYX to the 3D printers I will test and review in september/october 2014.
Leapfrog Creatr HS
€1799 (ex. VAT) / The Netherlands
I liked the big build plate of the Replicator and the one on the Creatr HS is even bigger. Not only does that mean printing bigger objects (as long as 30 cm) but also efficiently printing a lot of small things in one (nightly) run. It’s bed is also heated so you can print many different materials raging from PLA, ABS and Nylon to Wood- and Brick composites. Like the Replicator, it’s a standalone printer with a full color LCD Screen and USB input.
It has two extruders, which allow for printing in two colors or printing with a different support material such as water-soluble PVA. But the biggest USP of the Creatr HS is it’s High Speed of 300 mm/s which it can achieve because of it’s lighter Bowden extruder. I’m hoping this also makes the printer more quit than it predecessor, the Creatr, which I reviewed recently and found a bit too loud for a Creative Studio (though the sound isn’t as irritating as that of the Replicator)
It’s current lead time is 6 weeks according to the website.
€1449 (ex. VAT) / The Netherlands
This 3D printer is smaller than the Rep 5 but it’s also a lot cheaper. It can print up to 300 mm/s which makes it more than 3 times as fast and just as fast as the Creatr HS. It has a heated build plate but instead of glass it’s made of stone which should be more energy efficient since stone holds it’s temperature better than glass. The heated bed of course opens the possibilities of experimenting with all kinds of filament. The bed is also quite tick, ensuring it stays perfectly flat.
Two features that might appeal to the creative professional are the option for wireless file transfer and the fact that this printer is reportedly very silent. Before I got into 3D printing I thought I wouldn’t mind the sound of it, but after half a year of daily 3D printing I can tell you that some relative silence would be appreciated.
Builder Dual Feed
€1575 (ex. VAT) / The Netherlands
Dual Extrusion is one of those features that opens a lot of possibilities. Printing a single object with two colors allows more creative expression, but a dual extrusion printer usually has two down sides: the dual extruders make the printer quite big compared to its build volume and when switching colors mid-print, the idle extruder tends to leak a bit of filament that can ruin your print. The Builder solves this with a unique Dual Feed system that can print with two materials using just one nozzle. That keeps the extruder small, light and energy efficient and also prevents leaking. On top of that the Builder supports a feature called Color Mixing that let’s the user mix two colors of PLA filament to create smooth gradients.
The printer can be ordered in the striking red color shown here, but there’s also a black version if your creative studio has a more toned down color palette.
Update September 22nd 2014:
I will be testing the bigger brother of this printer, the Big Builder Dual Feed, instead. Read more about my exploration of the creative possibilities of Tall 3D printers here.
The ones I would like to test too
€1895 (ex. VAT) / The Netherlands
Like I wrote earlier the Ultimaker 2 was one on my first-3D-printer-shortlist from day one. I didn’t choose it the first time around because the build plate is a little too small for one product I’m developing. The second time around I considered it again, but didn’t choose it because it requires filament with a diameter of 2,85 mm and I had a big bunch of 1,75 mm filament left.
Those personal things aside the UM2 still is a great printer. It has been on the market for a while and is the third most popular 3D printer in Europe on 3D Hubs (the UM1 is number 1). It has a heated bed, is very silent (I’ve seen and heard many) and has a clean white look that will look great in a creative studio.
It’s highly recommended by many online and has a large community. Maybe that’s why it can be slightly pricier than other printers on this list. I did consider selling my 1,75mm filament and get this one, but build volume is still a big factor for me personally.
€1595 (ex. VAT) / Poland
The Zortax M200 seems to be a mix of the two printers above. While it’s has the same dimensions as the Ultimaker 2 it’s build plate is a bit smaller at 200 x 200mm. It does, however, feature an automatic leveling system like the ZYYX instead of the Ultimaker’s assisted manual leveling. The perforated top layer of the build plate is removable for easy print removal, but I’m curious if the perforations are visible on the bottom surface of the prints.
Instead on relying on open source software like the Ultimaker 2 and Builder (Cura) of third party software like the ZYYX, Creatr HS and Cyrus (Simplify3D), Zortax delivers it’s own software – Z-Suite – with their printer. This means it’s perfectly compatible with the printer, but could also mean it’s more limited, like I experienced with the MakerBot Desktop software.
I’ve contacted Zortax, but they currently don’t send out review models.
That’s my current shortlist! It’s worth noticing that all printers are prices around the €1600 price-point. Each has it’s own unique selling point, but they all offer more features than Replicator 5th Gen that’s least €1000 more expensive. That kind of money buys you 20-30 KG of filament that will keep you printing for a while – if your printer is reliable enough.
Like always, please let me know what you think – and which printer you think must be added to this list – of this selection by posting a comment below or through Twitter. You can also follow me there or subscribe to my brand new Newsletter if you want to be updated on my adventures.